The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is recognizing National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week May 2-8 with a series of virtual and in-person events that are free to the community. This year’s theme is “Flip the Script.”
The Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth and the Office of Community Health Engagement in the UTHSC College of Medicine are leading the activities for the week, which promotes the importance of the mental health needs of children, adolescents, and their families, needs that have been heightened by the pandemic.
“Children have been significantly impacted by the pandemic,” said Altha Stewart, MD, senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement, associate professor of psychiatry, the director of the UTHSC Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth in the College of Medicine, and past-president of the American Psychiatric Association.
“It has disrupted their daily lives,” she said. “It has created a vacuum in their ability to both learn academically and to learn social skills that are so critical to children’s development.”
Dr. Stewart said in many ways the pandemic has created another level of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), exposure to trauma or violence in homes or neighborhoods that can contribute to negative behaviors in children and create a cycle of destructive or violent behavior in the future.
She said the pandemic has brought on the sense of isolation, the sense of deprivation, loss of rituals, loss of the ability to be in touch with others – everything from playing and hanging out with friends. “All of that is being perceived by many of our children as a significant loss,” Dr. Stewart said. “And on top of that, the fear and anxiety related to the virus itself, has created a strong sense of anxiety and an increase in depression and sometimes suicidal feelings.”
Dr. Stewart will be among the panelists, along with Sarita Wilson, EdD, chaplain, and director of spiritual care at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, at a webinar Tuesday, May 4, that is being hosted by the Church Health Center around the topic of the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Stewart will address children’s mental health.
A Lunch and Learn is set for Thursday, May 6, addressing the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The webinar titled “Flip the Script: Youth Violence and Traumatic Injuries,” will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Panelists include Dr. Stewart; TJ Johnson, president and CEO of Wake Up Youth Foundation; and Regan Williams, MD, medical director of trauma at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and UTHSC associate professor of Surgery and Pediatrics.
A Children’s Wellness Fair is set for Friday, May 7, from 4-6 p.m. at Knowledge Quest, 590 Jennette Place. The event invites the community to wear green in support of children’s mental health awareness. The fair will provide mental health check-ins, mental health care kits, information and resources on violence prevention, assistance for families to sign up for resources and services available to address children affected by ACEs.
Activities for the week will conclude Saturday, May 8, with a System of Care Program/Community Partners Event from noon-3 p.m. in Frayser at Impact Baptist Church hosted by Legacy of Legends and in South Memphis at Christ Community Church. The event will be similar to the Wellness Fair Friday, however, in each location community partners will offer resources specific to the individual communities.
The full calendar of events, more information on activities, and links to access the webinars are available at https://www.uthsc.edu/chjiy/mental-health-awareness.php.